142 drug syndicates, heroin trade under NCB’s scanner
142 operational drug syndicates, heroin trade of $19 billion (Rs 140,000 crore), and 2 million heroin addicts -- these are some of the staggering numbers presented in an analysis by the country’s Narcotics Control Bureau that comes at a time when investigations by various agencies into drug-use and the drug trade has roiled both the Kannada and Hindi film industries.
According to the analysis, which has been reviewed by HT, the syndicates play a key role in the multi-billion dollar trade and have links to Western Europe, Canada, Africa, Australia, South American and countries in West Asia.
NCB has estimated that 360 metric tonnes (MT) of retail-quality heroin and about 36 metric tonnes (MT) of wholesale-quality heroin, which is purer, are smuggled into different cities in India every year. The 2 million users consume almost 1,000 kg of high quality heroin every day, it adds.
Punjab continues to be an epicentre of drug smuggling with 15,449 persons arrested from the state last year -- out of a total of 74,620 arrests across 36 states and union territories under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Thus far in 2020, 5,299 of the 18,600 total arrests are from the state.
The federal agency recently shared its findings with home minister Amit Shah, who is learnt to have directed it to go after the syndicates.
The crackdown on bigger drug syndicates is being spearheaded by NCB chief Rakesh Asthana, who probed several high profile cases including the VVIP chopper case, the fodder scam, and the bank fraud by Vijay Mallya during his stint in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Asthana was not available for comment.
Sharing details of the country’s top 142 syndicates, currently being watched closely, a senior official who didn’t want to be named said that as many as 25 of these operate from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Haryana. Rajasthan alone has nine , as do Maharashtra and Goa combined.
Some of the top syndicates have found to be connected with Afghanistan’s Taliban and Pakistan’s spy agency ISI -- and procure heroin through them -- while some have direct/indirect business dealings with Colombian cartels through their associates in Europe, Canada and Mexico for supplying cocaine, the first officer said. Traditionally, major trafficking of heroin in India takes place through the India-Pakistan border, mainly in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, from where it is further transported to other states.
The NCB analysis adds that Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep have around 10 big drug syndicates with the Kasargod and Kannur networks considered to be the most prolific ones. A Qatar-based syndicate is primarily linked with smugglers in Kasargod, Kannur (Kerala), Kodagu, Mangaluru (Karnataka), Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, and Delhi for supplying cocaine, high quality heroin and psychotropic substances, it said.
NCB has already registered at least 14 cases in connection with this Qatar network.
“The members of this network communicate directly with the kingpins lodged in Qatar central jail. The cartel uses people looking for jobs in the Gulf as carriers, some of whom are lured by offering free tickets, hotel or honeymoon packages etc. The drugs are concealed in check-in or carry-on luggage kept with dry or wet food items, groceries, clothes or in custom made concealments,” said K P S Malhotra, deputy director NCB.
For cocaine, NCB is keeping an eye on traffickers based in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai Bengaluru, and Chennai.
Malhotra added that “India’s proximity to South east Asian countries Myanmar, Laos and Thailand (known as the Golden Triangle) and South West Asian countries i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran (called the Golden Crescent) provides the major context for drug trafficking here. Also, unhindered air and sea linkages with other countries make India vulnerable to drug trafficking.”